Glacier Bay - a long time in the making!

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September 12th 2018
Published: September 15th 2018
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Juneau to Glacier Bay

Today was another day at sea or I should say, day on board as the cruise lines like to market these types of days: Scenic Cruising!! We were all provided with an itinerary for the day as well as a map of the area we would be cruising through, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Glacier Bay.

The day started at 06:30 when the ship turned in from Icy Strait to Bartlett Cove where we picked up a local Ranger who acted as our expert and guide for the day. Whilst some passengers may have been the early worms not wanting to miss a second of the activities and looked on as the Ranger boarded, two who I shall, for the purpose of protecting the guilty, call Yogi and Boo-Boo were still in hibernation giving out plenty of zzzzzz under the incredibly comfortable bed and duvet when the scenic cruising officially began!! Thankfully though, this Ranger did not start his commentary until a more respectable hour of 08:30 when our two metaphoric cartoon bears were up and foraging for breakfast in the picnic area known as Horizon Court buffet!!

As we headed up the fjord, the mountains either side got steeper and more rugged, their summits interspersed with snow. Just 250 years ago, Glacier bay was all Glacier and no bay!! This was a massive river of ice running for hundreds of miles and thousands of feet deep. Today this mega glacier has since dispersed and there are now fewer than a dozen tidal water glaciers left in this National park. These glaciers are impressive in themselves. As we neared our first major stop, Margerie glacier, our ship was running into mini ice bergs. These were shards of ice that had carved off from the existing glaciers. The ship hit several of these head on. Some of the icebergs exploded on impact whilst others broke in to smaller fragments. I call this Titanic’s revenge!!!

We arrived at our first stop at 09:30 where we stayed for one hour. We had stopped at the end of an arm of the fjord known as Tarr inlet. This was Margerie Glacier, towering two hundred and fifty feet above the water line (and another hundred feet below). This tidal glacier is almost a mile wide. The surface of the Glacier was very jagged and hostile looking as it snaked its way up to its source in the mountain range beyond. The edge of the glacier appeared a vivid blue in places. This is due to the light hitting highly compacted glacier ice, the long wavelength colours (reds) are absorbed whereas short wavelength colours (blues) are reflected back through the ice. During our hour long pause we heard some thunderous cracks echo around the gorge. These are known as ice calvings where great chunks of the glacier fall in to the fjord. We only managed to witness one such occurrence. This wasn’t so much a chunk but a fine slither, or so it looked from the deck of the ship. In reality it made such a huge noise as it slid from the sheet ice it was probably a few hundred tons of ice but the impact in to the ice depths was more of a splash than the expected tsunami!!

At the head of the Tarr inlet was a glacier with a much more grandiose name; the Grand Pacific Glacier. This is a much larger glacier than the Margerie but a lot less spectacular. The glaciers appearance is one of being very dirty. This is due to thousands of years of avalanches, rock slides, tributary glaciers and scouring of the valleys that has constituted so such a mucky glacier!!

It was time to head back down Glacier Bay. As we headed south, the landscape changed from a sharp profile to more sweeping mounds. We stopped briefly at John Hopkins inlet before slowly making our way back to Bartlett Cove. For most of the day we received a commentary from the Ranger that was relayed over the public address system on the open decks but for those who preferred to sit in the comfort of their stateroom, they could also hear the commentary on channel 39 of their TV.

The most humourous peak in the vicinity of Glacier Bay goes to the mountain at the head of Queen Inlet, the 1331 ft Gloomy Knob. I wonder if it was named after someone who was both miserable and a bit of an idiot?!!

During the Rangers excellent explanations and anecdotes, the mood turned serious when he announced that a drone has been spotted flying overhead. He emphasised that it is illegal to fly a drone in Glacier Bay National Park. His next sentence was unexpected and very Pythonesque: ‘If this is yours, stop it now!!’ I thought he was going to add: ‘You’re a very naughty boy!!’ I just hope that the owners of the drone weren’t looking down on a moose otherwise they could find themselves in serious double trouble (see previous blog entry re: moose reference!!)

We have been eating lunch at International Café during this trip. This is an open plan café in the piazza, deck 5, that provides a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, pastries, cakes and hot drinks including specialties such as latte, mocha and americano. Drinks can either be consumed at one of the small round nearby tables or taken away. Takeaway drinks had been provided in Styrofoam cups. All drinks were now being handed to passengers in hard plastic melamine mugs. The paper serviettes available on the counter had been replaced by linen napkins. On asking one of the crew why the change, he advised that they have been instructed to replace anything that can blow overboard or accidentally be thrown away that may end up in the fjord as the authorities responsible for the maintenance of this national park are very mindful of protecting the environment and take these things very seriously. Prevention is paramount to protecting our ecosystem. I then overheard an American couple ask a similar question. I turned to them and explained what I had just been told.

‘I do detect an accent’, said the man. ‘Where are you from? ‘

‘The UK’, Roisin said

‘We’re from Texas. Which part of the UK do you hail from?’

‘Liverpool’ we said in unison.

‘Did you know the Beatles?’ I didn’t see that one coming!!

‘No, I’m a touch too young’, I replied.

‘Yes, but I bet you know someone who did!’. This guy wasn’t going to give up

‘Can I ask you something.’ I said. ‘Did you know Jemiah Leatherface?’

‘Who’s that? Sound like a nickname for a politician?’ The bemused Texan said.

‘No. He was renowned for having a penchant for chainsaws and using them inappropriately on unsuspecting victims, somewhere in your neck of the woods!!’

‘That’s ridiculous’ was their reply

‘You started it!!’ I exclaimed.

We had now left Glacier Bay and were heading for our next port Ketchikan. Those people who say Alaska is like Norway on steroids have probably never visited Norway!! What we have witnessed on this trip so far is no more spectacular than Norway and certainly no less spectacular. It’s just amazingly different!!

During the cruise we adopted Bonnie. No, she’s not an animal but a person who has been part of our trivia team since day one. She is doing three back to back cruises with her family joining her on the last week. Bonnie runs her own construction business with her estranged husband. We have been winning pretty regular at trivia so that’s why she’s decided to stick around. There aren’t many elite passengers on this cruise but she is one of them, amassing over 600 days with Princess. There were only 96 elite guests on this cruise. Princess have a special event for the 40 most travelled guests. She was invited. We weren’t!! Later that evening my question to her is now in the running for stupidest question of the trip; ‘Where there many there?’ I asked.

‘Err, yes’, was her reply as if she was expecting a question but not that one. ’40!!’ she said!!

Bonnie mentioned that during this event the captain announced that he had just been promoted to Commodore. I wonder if he will buy every one a drink at the Captain’s circle cocktail party tomorrow. If he is expected to buy all of us a drink it will be a very expensive round or if we are expected to all buy him a drink he’ll be one very pissed Commodore!!

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